Monday, November 17, 2014

The Horror of the Internet. Also Books.

Anonymous writes:
On the whole, I would say the Internet has not improved the quality of my life at all. The benefits are surely outweighed by the costs. So I don't have internet at home now (and also no cell phone). It is useful for my work, but it can be done without it.

The convenience simply isn't worth it. There are very, very, very few things that can't wait a week or two (e.g. for a letter or paperwork to be sorted through the mail, going to a store). the cost on the other hand - massive waste of time/life, opening the most private areas of your life for all public and private institutions who have anything BUT your best interest in mind, the deterioration in memory, attention, language, and others skills, etc. Increasingly not a fan.
True in so many ways, but the same argument could be made for books, supermarkets, roads, and cities (in fact, it has been). It sounds ridiculous, but that's because the difference is less apparent to us. If you've ever heard a really good storyteller in person, you understand the difference between that and a book, just like the difference between a book and a Kindle, or a book and the internet. The experience of an immersive, in-person story delivered to a small group by a talented speaker is incredible; profound, even. So imagine the horror faced by the great orators when a generation of young, narcissistic wackos begins isolating themselves by going into quiet rooms to stare into bound woody slivers of mass-produced, standardized typesetting (an affront to talented scribes as well, but the orators are even more indignant). It's not a joke, but a real horror, and hundreds of years after the printing press, all of the orators' predictions about an isolated, impersonal society would seem to have been borne out.

Most of what was printed was dross--the literary Quentin Tarantino, piles of Shakespeare, and pamphlets of dirty limericks or aristocratic gossip so cheaply made that it fell apart before it could be truly absorbed into recorded history. And books continue to do that, turning the schoolroom into a place of depersonalized memorization, where many of the teachers are no longer able to lecture effectively, because they rely on the externally-stored knowledge of the printed paper (the slower predecessor to Wikipedia).

Rather than regressing entirely into meiosis, this one thinks we can make use of each variety of connectivity, provided we're able to protect ourselves from each type of dissonance. Remember, for example, when it was so cool that someone was getting a telegraph that all business in the town had to stop, and everyone had to run down to the office to see the little thing tappity-tappitying? All those wires for something like, "ON MY WAY HOME ELVIRA ALL MY LOVE THIS YEAR MORTY." Was it really that necessary? (Some) people used to assume the best about their loved ones in spirit, and wait for the physical reunion to get re-acquainted, without needing to send a constant stream of serfs back and forth across the Atlantic to find out that Molly had gotten over her ringworm, and when are you coming back?

Maybe it's worth it the first few times to drop your broom and go watch the telegraph come in, provided that when you get back home you you can still remember to beat the horse and brush the rugs. Might've got those two reversed, but the point is, there's probably a "balance" that can be handled there so long as we're not required to use the technology in a certain way.

That's the real problem--the requirement aspect. The Post Office is a great idea, for example, but now you have to opt in. What was once a great way to stay connected has been perverted into one of the tax farm's primary systems of control. Your address becomes a permanent part of your government file, all people without addresses are suspect, the commons is dead, and for us to socialize, we have to pay bar or restaurant owners for the privilege (or movie theaters or malls or whatever else you like). Right now the internet is a quirky tool, but how long until your profile has become required? You file your taxes, update vaccination records, find out if any warrants have been issued for your arrest...what, you mean you're not wearing your iWatch with your secure ID on display? Then it's off to the slammer.

That's why some of the neoconservative idiots are finding it hard to destroy the Post Office. They think they're trying to crush the peons by privatizing mail service for a profit, but actually, the Post Office is needed to maintain the asset location infrastructure lists upon which the police and I.R.S. rely. Courts use the postal network to enforce service of process on individuals and businesses, and Citizen Farm administration costs would shoot way up if citizens could go a little bit off the radar by simply opting out of FedEx, Official Supplier of Postal Services to the United States of America.

The craftier neoliberals are pretending that they care about old-timey communal mail delivery done in the public interest, using that as a cover to buy time for the Post Office until some form of internet control can more effectively track taxable assets. As always, business is trying to destroy things for selfish reasons, while political liberals are lying in order to protect business from making a mistake that would cost them money. If it weren't for American liberals protecting them so often, American conservatives would've expired a long time ago.

The Post Office issue is similar to the Affordable Care Act, where Americans take a good idea (generalized emergency fund for medical issues), sell off too much control to corrupt middlemen, and then the system becomes about benefiting the middlemen, rather than about the result produced. A "National Post" of some kind is a great idea, and it makes money while disproportionately benefiting the citizenry; sell it off to the middlemen, though, and it becomes what it is now--a pitiful joke of spam catalogs subsidized by taxpayers, disproportionately benefiting the businesses that send you new ads every week (printed on trees cut from public land that you exempted from taxation in order to give free to Kellogg when he needed a higher profit margin per box of Cheerios), combined with a draconian location registry of everyone, determining where they are subject to service of process from a County's Superior Court. Impossible to achieve in a land of freeholders, but perfect for the post-Revolutionary tax aristocracy.

But still, until the big publishers come in and seize full control, this "internet" tool can be a useful thing. Books didn't kill all of us--for some of us, they became a way to communicate across the generations; a way to develop more meaningful and in-person personal relationships based on having shared the time- and space-transcending experience available via book, but not storyteller. The internets and brainwebs and social memory complexes will do the same thing, too. They'll be perverted by the sick few and the ignorant masses, but will still remain mere tools, usable for positive ends if we so choose.

S'all just different ways of digging a talk-hole through the wall to the cell next door.


  1. Eh... this borderline regresses to generic talk about "Technology" and "Progress". something useful can be found in anything, but the question is is it worth the cost, and the answer is not always obvious, and not always "yes".

    Sure, books caused a great deal of harm, but it is probably feasible to make the argument that on the whole they may have permitted the enlightenment of more than it would have been otherwise. They may have also permanently foreclosed other thinking avenues, we will never know.

    But, just because books (*may have*) been a net benefit, or just because dentistry has surely been a net benefit, doesn't tell me anything about the cost-benefit calculus of any other technological advancement.

    Most technologies have different potentialities, but which ones get in fact realized is neither random, nor a thoughtful process. Usually the technological features that hypertrophy are precisely the ones that disproportionately serve established power (or more infrequently - that enable the establishment of a new power).

    So if a technology can be used to amplify existing power, it WILL be used. Hence, the nuclear bomb (rather than a network of clean, and reliable reactors that would take care of ALL of humanity's energy needs). Or, take the MRAP vehicles that so many police departments now have. Designed for extreme emergency and warfare situations, these beasts are now used to serve routine small-ltime warrants. Why? Because it's there, that's why!

    With that in mind, is stand behind my current thumbs down on "the internet" - which in no ways denies its (quickly disappearing) potentialities for something "good"...

    1. "Technology" and "Progress," yes. This one's always approaching such issues from what would be called an idealistic perspective, so when we look at the internet or police toys...yes, they're half-assedly broken dinosaur nightmares that were exploited by corrupt scum to make life worse. But that's almost always been the case with what people have come up with so far, and at some point, we're going to have to disassociate the act of technological progress from the people who have, thus far, stolen technological progress.

      After so many centuries of elites capturing inventions and using them to kill humanity (both literally and figuratively), we face a number of dangers--foremost is, certainly, the fact that they're killing us. But somewhere lower on the scale is the danger that we'll let our passion for learning and growing be damaged by the fact that every teacher we've met so far is a child molester.

      I'm probably jumping the gun by trying to encourage us to crack open the books again, even while it's still third period and Obama and Janet have us locked in the faculty lounge while their callused hands scratch their way up our collective skirts; the point of all this is to try to minimize the damage by whispering to ourselves, "It won't last forever...and don't be afraid to learn calculus and read Dostoyevsky once it's over..."

    2. Fair enough, but beyond that I personally truly am not convinced that further technological advances are worth it - as Thoreau famously quips, they are "improved means towards and unimproved ends". And "the ends" (i.e. the good life) do not require virtually any technology. This does not mean NOT cracking the books open. It simply means that there are better things to do, rather than obsess over the computer size, etc.

  2. The most conservative and reactionary forces in our society are the most pro-innovation.

    (Me? I'm opposed to any and all innovation, ever :) )

    1. That's what they want out of us, though. They claim they're pro-innovation, but they design IP policies and patent procedure to require substantial capital investment to research, develop, and secure inventions. As a result, they control almost every invention, which makes them money--but humanity as a whole is massively held back. The insane amount of time it has taken to reduce computer size to physical tablet form is proof to that, as is the sequential way that cars' "gas mileage" gets only slightly better over a period of time.

      The "pro-innovation" is a way of controlling and limiting innovation, just like the most vocally "pro-education" factions tend to be actually invested in a dumber workforce and short-term profiteering.

      We mustn't let their foulness turn us off the issue itself. That's like a bunch of cavemen still eating raw meat in order to spite the bastard who roasted, then cannibalized his family the year before.

    2. Well, sure - I just want to be left alone, plus it is not apparent that even roasted meat is an advancement, not to mention that we probably shouldn't be eating it to begin with...

      While I maybe agree with about 51% of your position, it has not much direct impact on how I should live my life right now, where disengagement seems the most productive right now. some productive push may come later, but probably not much as I'll most likely just end up feeding the monster some more.